Following on from our piece detailing the top 25 under 21 footballers in the world, we take a closer look at those just under the radar – the stars of tomorrow only now beginning to make an impact at the highest level. Or even those that are yet to do so at all.
We have centred our focus to the Premier League for this list of the top 10 youth footballers coming through the junior ranks in England. The likes of Marcus Rashford, Dele Alli, Alex Iwobi, Anthony Martial and Kelechi Iheanacho are already household names, so we have used strict criteria by including only those who are yet to break out, and have made less than a handful of first team appearances.
To keep ourselves even more honest, we’ve limited the list to one stand out player per team on the verge of being the “next big thing.”
10. Mason Holgate (Everton, 19, Defender)
Now into his second season with Everton, tall centre-back Holgate has already made a real impression on both manager and club alike, having started his first three Premier League matches during August. Ronald Koeman was moved to heap praise upon the youngster following a strong showing in Everton’s win over West Brom, highlighting both his maturity and versatility for one so young, “I’m very pleased…he looks like he’s already played two seasons. He was comfortable. It’s not easy for him to be a third centre-back and then we changed system and he played right-back,”
The former Barnsley junior is described as similar in style to ex-teammate John Stones, as outlined by EPL Index: “His positioning and reading of the game belie his age…although he needs to bulk up before he dominates aerially. On the ball, Holgate is exciting to watch and it is easy to see why comparisons to John Stones are being made. He is comfortable under pressure and likes to bring the ball out of the back four.”
9. Lynden Gooch (Sunderland, 20, Midfielder)
American Gooch recently received his maiden call up to the senior national team, having impressed enough during his first 4 starts with the black cats. Whilst his club side have had yet another horrid start to their Premier League campaign, Mason has been a rare bright spark. Plying his trade anywhere through the centre and left of midfield, he has also shown an eye to getting further forward.
Whilst yet to get on the scoresheet in the league, MLSSoccer suggest he is, “full of pace, pluck and ingenuity (and) packs a physical punch despite standing just five-foot-eight. He can operate from the No. 10 slot, from either flank or as a support striker. Loves to shoot from distance and has bagged a handful of nasty screamers for the reserves.”
8. Sam Field (West Brom, 18, Midfielder)
Such was the impressive nature of Field’s debut Premier League display against Middlesborough that Baggies’ ‘keeper Ben Foster was moved to remark, “Sam was brilliant. He has an experienced head on such young shoulders…gets hold of the ball and he is very elegant and classy in the way that he plays the game. He works hard every day in training and is a really top lad with hopefully a very bright future ahead of him.”
Currently being handled with care by manager Tony Pulis, Field’s playing time will be monitored closely over the course of the season. Yet the future looks bright regardless as outlined by Birmingham Mail: “He has a similar style to James Ward-Prowse at Southampton, they both have great technique and will only go from strength to strength. He knows when to play the simple pass instead of turning into trouble, keeping the tempo of the side moving. He looks to try and get things going in the middle of midfield during the limited time he and Albion actually get on the ball.
7. Reece Oxford (West Ham, 17, Defender)
Burst onto the scene at the beginning of the 2015-16 season with a composed display on his Premier League debut. Since then has disappeared a little into the background, but is still just a boy and his time will surely come despite suggestions during the summer that he could be moved on by West Ham. His appearances in the senior team have been split between defensive and midfield roles, highlighting his versatility (seemingly a common trait amongst the best footballers of tomorrow).
Given the depth of challenges that West Ham face this season, it would not be a surprise to see Oxford given more game time soon. Oxford has been compared to Rio Ferdinand in terms of playing style and physical attributes, and could not be any happier with that suggestion, “The player that I looked up to the most at West Ham was probably Rio Ferdinand, because he was the same position as me.”
6. Marcus Edwards (Tottenham, 17, Midfielder)
The diminutive Spurs youngster has sparked comparison with the great Lionel Messi from none other than his own manager Mauricio Pochettino, “The qualities…it’s looks, his body and the way that he plays, (we) remember a little bit from the beginning of Messi. He’s small, he’s left footed, is a very good prospect and potentially he can be a top player. But we need to be patient and tell him that he has enough talent to be a great player, but now it’s how he builds his future.”
After appearing during the course of Spurs’ pre-season tour of Asia, Edwards has since gone on to make his senior debut with a 15-minute cameo in the league cup. It appears that much like Sam Field at West Brom, he will be used carefully by Pochettino and feature sporadically until he grows and develops further. Thus a full Premier League debut may be a little way off, but if Tottenham progress through the cups then he is likely to feature.
5. Ben Chilwell (Leicester, 19, Defender)
The Foxes’ left back spent much of last season on loan in the Championship with Huddersfield Town, and turned down an approach by Liverpool during the summer. Chilwell has thus far only appeared in several cup fixtures for the reigning Premier League Champions, but has impressed in these limited outings.
According to The Daily Mail, “he moves forward with an easy stride, has a decent left-foot delivery and his covering of his centre-back is responsible. He can also extricate himself from tricky situations with good close control.” Manager Claudio Rainieri is also a fan, saying last year that, “he is a very, very good player and he will be a fantastic player for Leicester City.”
4. Lewis Cook (Bournemouth, 19, Midfielder)
Signed from boyhood club Leeds United, Cook moved straight into the starting line up for Bournemouth’s opening Premier League fixture of 2016/17. Despite impressing on debut, he has gone on to add only two league cup appearances thus far. More opportunities will surely come though. Named League One Player Of The Year the season after Dele Alli, Cook is a central midfielder who will at the very least provide solid back up to Jack Wilshere at this stage of his development.
Outside Of The Boot describe Cook’s key strengths as, “his grace and composure on the ball (that) emit signs of a footballer who possesses great authority on the field of play. He is capable of launching attacks consistently, despite being a more defensively-oriented midfielder. His defensive prowess is clear. His confidence and stance while on the ball is very eloquent, while despite not possessing scintillating pace, he is still to be seen dribbling up-field, and taking on defenders.”
3. Krystian Bielik (Arsenal, 18, Defender)
Originally a central midfielder, the young Pole has converted to defence and will hope to form a strong part of the Gunners’ future. Having already appeared in the League Cup in 2015/16, Bielik has backed that up again this season following a pre-season tour to the US. Bielik is clearly rated highly by manager Arsene Wenger, who has overseen his transition from midfield to the heart of defence.
Wenger outlined his thoughts on Bielik to FourFourTwo, “He has all the qualities and ingredients to be a top-level centre-back. The one thing he is missing is the experience in this position because he came to us as a central midfielder, but I converted him because I felt he can play the type of football we want to play as a centre-back.”
2. Aleix Garcia (Manchester City, 19, Midfielder)
Trying to break into arguably the strongest starting line-up in the Premier League can’t be easy. Yet the young Spaniard has already achieved just that, coming on as a late substitution during Man City’s 4-0 hammering of Bournemouth in mid-September. Managed to find the back of the net just four days later in a League Cup encounter with Swansea, and the former Villarreal junior will hope to continue his rapid rise under new manager Pep Guardiola.
Primarily a defensive midfielder, Garcia has been praised for his recent displays not just by the manager but by fans as well:
Aleix Garcia is ahead of Fernando in the picking order for Pep. Personally rate Aleix above Fernando. Reminds of Modric the way he plays..
— BlueCityZen (@BlueCitizen007) September 21, 2016
1. Andreas Christensen (Chelsea, 20, Defender)
The tall Danish centre-back is closing on on double figure national appearances already, and is amidst his second season on loan at Borussia Monchengladbach. Chelsea have recently outlined their desire to hold onto Christensen, who has played a key role in defence during his time in the Bundesliga. Could be the answer to Chelsea’s current defensive woes if the Blues can keep hold of him, and has attracted the interest of the likes of Barcelona.
Has been compared to one of the greatest footballers ever by the Danish manager Age Hareide, as reported by SB Nation, “He reminds me of Franz Beckenbauer — he still has work to do to reach him — in his playing style, because he’s really relaxed and elegant. It almost looks like he could be playing in a suit. He has the whole package, and he’s humble and listens.” Hareide went on to point to Christenen’s calmness, strength, anticipation, courage and intelligence as key character traits.